Sunday, 26 February 2017

Junction by design?

The country end of Sweetbriar Lane!
During the Second World War it was deemed essential by someone in charge that the road junction at The Crown should be protected by road blocks.  It is likely that wardens and guards queued to volunteer for this duty as their mess was The Crown Hotel.  The records at Hertfordshire Archives specified the number of yards from the junction a road block was to be set up.  They do not specify exactly what kind of block, but possibly concrete blocks and iron bars.  They were to be set up in Stanhope Road, Clarence Road and the two arms of Hatfield Road.  The block on the eastern arm just east of Albion Road.  So, that just leaves Camp Road, which apparently had no road block at all, but no explanation was given.  Of course, any alien vehicle driver with a map could turn into Cavendish Road and exit Cecil Road and thereby avoid the block altogether – but that would depend on what they were up to!

Stanhope Road meets The Crown.
A strategic junction The Crown may have been, but no-one in their right minds would have designed a junction this way.  It is rather a mess.  So let's explore how it came to be.  Hatfield Road from the east drops down a little hill (possible sign of a former stream valley) before bending to the right en-route towards St Peter's Church; but other than climbing out of the little valley there was no long climb to the bridge as there is today; that was a construct of the railway.

At the bend arrived a backwater lane which for centuries had wound its way past hamlets and villages, supporting the tiny rural population needing access to the town market and its parish church.  In the 1750s a small toll house appeared at the junction, roughly where the postbox is today.  Travellers from now on would be entering and using a privately run highway, a turnpike road.  Inevitably it did not take long for a few travellers with carts or animals to find ways around the problem, avoiding the junction, possibly with the agreement of the landowner, or possibly not.

A roundabout of sorts at The Crown.
Courtesy St Albans' Museums
By the time the next road to be added to the junction came about, the "illegals" – travellers avoiding payment, had become used to picking their way and making an entry to the town where a little lane, known locally as Sweetbriar Lane, finally petered out.  Sweetbriar is now Victoria Street.

It probably wasn't surprising, therefore, that when the wedge of land we know as Stanhope and Granville roads was being developed a road connection between Hatfield Road and Victoria Street was created, with the junction just a few yards before the toll house!  By the time the road was laid, however, the turnpiked Hatfield Road was taken over by the Highways Board and the tolls dispensed with.  Drive today from Hatfield Road east, turn left and then sharp right into Stanhope Road, and then imagine trying the same manoeuvre with larger carts or carriages with two or even four horses.  Not surprising, therefore, that a new roadway sprang up (still there today) to leave Hatfield Road obliquely, and in front of The Crown Hotel (the road was there first; The Crown arrived later).  All of which created a little crossroads.  Not much of a problem before homes began to appear, but it's not surprising that the little road in front of The Crown was eventually closed, although it was useful in creating an informal roundabout at one stage.

The park once included all of this street area; at least the
building of the toilets opened up a view for motorists
looking right.  Courtesy St Albans' Museums
The last road to join the junction was Clarence Road.  Not a road at all before the 1890s and the opening of the park; the opening went just  as far as the present park gates, its purpose being to give access to the farm buildings (now Clarence Park Mews and the Conservative Club).  Once houses were built, though, you probably wouldn't want to drive to the Crown Junction and risk easing out without knowing what was coming down the hill from the right.  Until the early 1930s the park fences, shrubs and trees came right down to the corner, until the park was cut right back when the public toilets (now Verdi's) were built in the early 1930s.

As you see, rather a messy junction.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Updating and refreshing

We do it to our homes; we do it with our cars and our wardrobes.  Every so often we also do it with our websites.  Give them a refresh; an improved way to display information on the pages; and more efficient links both to other pages and to other sites.

That is exactly what is happening to during February.  If you have browsed the site recently you will have noticed a mix of the old and the new – and even the new may receive further tweaks during the next few weeks.

In fact, there new topics which should be appearing this Spring, which have never received much attention, yet deserve to.  More news of these at a later date.

There is one page which I return to regularly, mulling over a few of the questions which have been asked by others, or, in an attempt to complete some research or other, I throw out in the hope that solutions may be discovered by others.

For example, the 1911 census enumerates two families living at Horseshoes (now Smallford) and Ellenbrook.  In one household there were two boarders who were employed as a green keeper and golf labourer.  In the other household there were a golf professional and a horse driver at a golf club, which the census describes as the Hatfield Road Links.

The early development was on the right of St Albans Road
West, near The Comet.  Trees now hide where the homes
The dawn of the 20th century was a period of building development along the road to Hatfield.  The grass air strip would shortly be laid on part of the former Harpsfield Hall Farm – Ellenbrook Fields occupies part of this land today.  A row of large detached and semi-detached homes began to line the airfield side of St Albans Road West from opposite Ellenbrook Lane as far as the access road to the police station opposite the Galleria.  Most of the homes didn't last long and none remains today.  Not even in the form of photographs that I have discovered.

The occupiers of these homes were in well-paid jobs: banking, accountancy and other City-based careers.  This was the clientele the developers were anticipating, and on the back of the promise of a large number of similar homes – the rest never materialised – persuaded the Great Northern Railway Company to construct a station at Nast Hyde for residents to make the connection at Hatfield for trains to the City.

The railway company agreed to add a station at Nast Hyde
close to the development. 
A golf club would  be a further social benefit to the residents and was likely to be the kind of facility provided by a developer.  The question, however, remains: where was this club?  We may be confused by the name used in the census: Hatfield Road Links.  If that is meant to be an accurate label of its location, the club had to be west of Smallford crossroads, for that is Hatfield Road.  Should we therefore be looking for a site at Butterwick Farm or Butterwick Wood?

The road becomes St Albans Road West at Wilkins Green, Nast Hyde and Ellenbrook.  Adjacent to the  garden centre was, between the wars, a speedway track, but surely that would have been too small a location for golf links.  Until de Havilland Aircraft Company moved onto the air strip site in the 1930s land not required for the strip would have continued in agricultural use, either Popefield or Harpsfield Hall farms.  But behind those detached homes, could the developer have rented or leased sufficient acres for golf use?  The income from thwacking small white balls around would have provided more profit than many field crops.  But financial success for the golf project would have depended on the developer completing his allocation of expensive homes.

The Selwyn estate was added in the 1930s to the early
unfinished development.
We now appreciate that the First World War intervened, and completion of the work only concluded when the smaller homes of the Selwyn estate arrived in the late 1930s, by which time the aircraft firm had put down roots.  Developers make many promises, but events often intervene and promises become failed dreams.

But a golf club was around St Albans Road west (or Hatfield Road) somewhere, and was in operation – at least four men were employed for the purpose.  So, in addition to discovering  where the club was, we should perhaps discover in whose employ the men were.